A few years ago, the Corona beer people had an ad campaign where they basically stated the company’s position on immigration as this: “You’re welcome to come to the United States, so long as you bring a party.” This campaign ran right around Cinco de Mayo, which they used as an example of what they were talking about.
I got to thinking about that when Lisa and I were at Sardi’s restaurant in Gaithersburg, Maryland last week. The place has its roots in Peruvian cuisine, which can only mean that Peru is not a safe place to be if you’re a chicken. You line up to order in front of a 20′ x 10′ mural of Machu Pichu that would be captivating, were it not for what’s in front of you. That’s two massive charcoal-fired grills, proudly manufactured by H. Ruiz Hnos. Each one has 4-5 6′ long steel spits; each of those has half a dozen whole chickens trussed and speared on it.
In the barely-controlled chaos of the food prep area, a worker wearing heavy gloves removes a spit and dumps the chickens out in front of the order-taking guy. He uses a pair of scissors to cut the trusses, then 3-4 whacks with a cleaver and you have a quartered chicken. You tell him how much chicken you want, he puts that on a plate and slides it to the people who are piling heaping quantities of side dishes on top of the chicken. I went for aroz y frijoles verdes.
But what struck me, both in the line of poultryvores and at the table, was this: the customer base represented a healthy chunk of the U.S. demographic. Of course, there were quite a few Latino families – the vibe is Latino, there’s (wontedly frenetic) Spanish-language radio blaring, and the big-screen TVs are showing Premier League soccer, courtesy of ESPN Desportes. But there were also, in no small numbers, white folks, black folks, Asian folks, inter-racial couples, the whole mix. At one booth a black guy and a (subcontinent) Indian fellow were talking sports while watching the futbol.
As I pointed out to Lisa, this is America at its best. In most places around the world (and certainly where we live in the Isle of Man), there is not a particularly strong demand for ethnic food. People hew toward their local cuisine, and if there are multiple cultures, they tend not to stray from that culture’s food. Americans, however, as a whole thrive on food from cultures other than their own. Or maybe better said, when a new culture shows up with interesting food, we assimilate it and make it our own.
“You’re welcome to come here as long as you bring something good to the pot-luck.”
This boulliabasse of humanity, chowing down on mounds of Peruvian chicken, was a perfect example of that. I was just delighted to be part of the multi-cultural horde that has discovered this place.
P.S. I’m not making this up: there’s a KFC immediately adjacent to Sardi’s. I mean, they virtually share a parking lot. We were astonished that the KFC could stay in business there. As we walked out, I wanted to yell at people going into the KFC driveway that they were just one driveway off.